Collaborative leadership begins with you

Collaboration: having been bandied about the boardroom for decades, it nonetheless remains an enigmatic concept in business today. Is it merely one of those hackneyed buzzwords that are so heavily frowned upon on CVs and company mission statements, or rather an incredibly relevant concept that applies to the modern organisation?

Businesses of all size and shape today will do well to ensure collaboration is still a major priority – and the onus, no doubt, falls on the organisation’s leader. This seems to hold true across the world, at least according to an extensive global study led by CEO and author John Gerzema.

In the study, researchers polled 64,000 individuals across 13 countries on the qualities they believed led to successful leaders and businesses. One of the most prominent insights garnered in the study was that most people wanted their leaders to be more collaborative, with this trait ranking among the highest, along the likes of flexibility and selflessness.

In fact, an overwhelming 84 per cent believed that greater collaboration and sharing of credit are essential to a successful modern career. So what does this mean for those sitting at the top of businesses today?

It means it’s time to take collaborative leadership seriously, if you aren’t doing so already.

What does it really mean to be a collaborative leader?

The importance of collaboration aside, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it means and entails, especially in a leadership context.

It’s worth having a look around to see how different people define collaborative leadership. According to an infographic from the Collaborative Lead Training Co., the workplace is evolving towards a more collaborative future and thus redefining leadership.

The infographic lays out eight key differences between traditional leadership and collaborative leadership. Among these are the notions that in contrast with the traditional model, collaborative leadership:

  • Believes power is greatest in a collective team, rather than coming from a position of authority
  • Openly shares information and knowledge, rather than imposing ownership on it
  • Elicits suggestions and ideas from across the team – all the time
  • Empowers the team with immediate time and resources, rather than providing these only when necessary

As can be seen from the infographic’s suggestions, a collaborative leader is one who embraces a ‘flatter’ organisational structure, sharing authority and accountability around the team instead of hoarding it themselves.

Additionally, in an April 17 2013 HRZone article, leadership consultants David Archer and Alex Cameron said there are three essential skills and three essential attitudes behind a collaborative leader. Even if a leader possesses the three skills, they will not be able to be fully collaborative if they don’t have the attitudes to match.

According to Archer and Cameron, the three vital skills for collaborative leadership are mediation, influencing and engaging others. Collaborative leaders, they say, are adept at addressing and resolving conflicts the moment they arise. In addition, they are skilled at influencing peers based on the organisation’s culture – which is a critical skill to have if they hope to share control and leadership.

Lastly, engagement and relationship building are essential qualities for a collaborative leader, and this involves clear communication.

So, what are the attitudes that accompany these crucial skills? Archer and Cameron outline agility, patience and empathy as the mindsets that leaders should adopt if they wish to be collaborative.

It is clear that there are some common threads that unite the schools of thought around collaborative leadership. Leaders attempting to follow this model should place emphasis on the team rather than the individual, promote a flat and open company structure and empower their employees. This should be backed up with quick-thinking and the ability to take others’ points of view.

Why it pays to be collaborative

But why is collaborative leadership so important? Especially in the modern business world, where technology is exponentially growing in prevalence and reshaping traditional interpersonal communication, adopting a collaborative culture is essential.

This was pointed out by Carol Kinsey Goman in a February 13 2014 Forbes article. Ms Goman stresses that the dreaded silo mentality is holding back countless organisations today, and not sharing information around the company can essentially “kill” it.

As a recent study by Interaction Associates suggests, not embracing collaborative leadership can also hurt your company’s bottom line. The group conducted a study on what impacts the confluence of leadership, collaboration and trust can have on a business – including its financial performance.

In the study, Interaction Associates ranked more than 150 companies based on how well they embodied these three components. It found that those considered strong across the three traits demonstrated superior financial results – for example, their P/E ratios were 28.5 per cent higher on average for those classed as weak.

Collaboration is not just a vague ideal that companies should aim for – it is a very real concept with tangible results, and it’s time to embed this into your leadership today.

Implementing change in your organisation without risk

We work with a lot of great leaders, but even the most confident among them feel the heat when attempting to execute a serious change agenda.

What makes leading change so demanding?

From your own personal efforts to change a habit or transition from the top of the curve to the next, you know the effort and personal commitment required to make change stick. When you extend that across your organisation and through to your customers, the increased complexity of the groups combined history and entrenched views of the world makes the process much harder. At the same time, your people are instinctively assessing where they will win or lose.

Your executive team may engage and debate the direction you want to take, but it’s easy to confuse agreement and head nodding with a commitment to take the action that delivers real change. If you have good people in your organisation, the chances are they aren’t willing to adapt to every new initiative that comes along.

The pace of change can also be frustrating and non-linear. People need time to absorb what it means for them personally. Teams need additional time to plan how supporting processes, tools, behaviours and culture align to ensure change is embedded.

Let’s assume you have mastered the basics. You have a strategy that tackles key pain points, shaped a vision through consultative engagement, people you trust lead the change and you’ve defined the metrics that will determine success.

These are all essential ingredients, but not a guarantee for success. As you’ll see from the two stories we selected, even with a focus on driving change and some basic principles in place, things can still go wrong.

We have a problem in Houston

We arrived in Houston in the middle of summer. The first mistake was venturing out on foot. Sidewalks often stop for no reason and crossing a parking lot can feel like crossing a desert.

We were implementing a new system and thought most of the challenging engagement work was behind us. We were starting testing when someone had said, ‘you should reach out to the team in Houston’.

We discovered they only had a team of 25, but importantly a team that would be responsible for 95% of all transactions and the majority of data input for the next year. With tight timeframes, the design team had focused on future state, so we had a patchy view of what really happened today. The reality was that this small team was critical to the current stage of the process, but was not a part of the future state vision, hence their limited involvement.

The agenda for the meeting in Houston was to outline the six-week schedule to go live and get commitment for testing. The response we got from a team that had no input to the scope or design was rather abrupt.

In the end, the IT team had to build additional infrastructure and migrate an extra 100,000 documents to ensure that the implementation didn’t cause massive disruption across the organisation in the medium term. The project not only blew out the budget, it was delivered 6 months later than planned.

What was the cost of overlooking a small middle office team that was going to be a phased out in 18 months time? Two of your scarcest resources – time and money.

We’re shutting it down

We were asked to look at the health of a joint venture of two financial firms. The risks posing a threat to the success of the change were flagged to the executive team – culture and leadership. Because both organisations were steeped in years of service guided by the principle of ‘client first’, the leadership team viewed these as internal issues and low risk.

We spent some month’s road showing a combined set of business and leadership principles, including the need to lead by example, and that’s just what happened.

Shortly after the launch of the new business model in the largest division, one of the smaller offices walked out. The media took hold of the story reporting rumours of two other offices at the door. The Chairman took matters into his own hands. He decided the firm’s reputation was at risk, called an ad hoc meeting and announced there would be no new financial model or change to the reward structure, and that the new business model was merely a guide. The CEO was forced to stand in the shadows and watch.

If key metrics rather than instinct had been applied in that pivotal moment, they would have discovered that they were only halfway towards achieving the target size of the new enterprise in line with their strategy – a strategy that depended on voluntary attrition.

But that wasn’t the real price paid. How does one value the cost of leadership that is undermined?

What’s the true cost of getting change wrong?

The senior sponsors in both cases underestimated the complexity of the change and the need to honour a process. They ignored key transition activities, didn’t take the time to consider potential change risks and were unable to hold steady in the storm. Ultimately, they paid a price.

How do you implement change in your organisation? Do you expect your CIO, head of people or project management officer to have the capacity and skill set to anticipate and act upon potential change risks? Do you seek an independent perspective or regularly monitor the health of the change itself to ensure you haven’t missed something that could de-rail the process?

When the cost of change to your organisation, your team and your own legacy is potentially so high, it might be time to take a fresh perspective and re-evaluate the cost of getting it wrong.

Written by Tiffany Jones and Adam Sanford.

Tiffany is a master speaker for The Executive Connection, with twenty years of experience advising institutions and family offices in the art of leading with confidence and building momentum. Adam is a strategic change advisor, with significant experience leading complex, large-scale transformation programs.

Adam and Tiffany work at Momentum Advisory Group, an advisory boutique aimed at helping individuals, teams and families in business to lead with confidence.

Are you a successful leader of change?

It’s certainly true that in order to evolve and adapt to an increasingly complex future, businesses have to be constantly changing. Whether it’s implementing new technology, processes and ways of working or seeking new markets to explore, companies need to continuously think about the routes they’ll take.

Of all the major organisational projects that business leaders have to oversee, one of the most challenging can be change management. How do you promote a culture of constant, productive change, while still keeping everyone on board and without jeopardising the harmony of your organisation?

Change management is therefore one of the skills every executive should work on developing, given the massive implications it can have on the very future of the business. As recent research suggests, however, today’s organisations, managers and employees may not be entirely ready to embrace change.

Change still a stumbling block for many

Of course, to enable smooth and effective organisational transformation, a culture of change must be embedded across the enterprise. This involves having the people, strategies and tools required to drive change – but how many companies today can claim to be adequately equipped?

According to an Association for Talent Development survey of 765 professionals, 60 per cent of respondents said their business faces “three or more major changes” every year. Meanwhile, one out of four respondents said they face twice as many changes than that per year.

Despite this obvious need to make change management a top priority, the survey went on to reveal that fewer than one in five (17 per cent) said their organisation is effective at managing change.

Furthermore, less than a third (30 per cent) of respondents reported that their company actually has a change management team in place, while twice that proportion pinned their hopes of successful change on the CEO. With so few organisations having the necessary personnel to lead change, this signals a clear area for improvement for companies across the board.

However, that isn’t the only thing preventing many organisations from successfully enacting change.

What else is holding them back?

As outlined in the Katzenbach Center’s comprehensive 2013 Culture and Change Management Survey, there are myriad factors precluding modern organisations from fully embracing the prospect of change. The survey, which polled well over 2,000 people around the world, canvassed their opinions on the importance of transformation in the organisation, who is leading it and the obstacles that hamper lasting change.

When asked about the top barriers to change, the two most prominent responses were that clashing priorities lead to “change fatigue” and that the systems, processes and incentives in place do not support change.

A large part of the problem may also be behind the attitudes of the employees themselves. The survey revealed that the top three reasons staff resist change are because failed efforts in the past have made them sceptical, they don’t feel involved in the process and they do not understand the reasons behind the change.

All in all, half (48 per cent) of respondents said the critical capabilities required to sustain change are not in place.

Business leaders who can relate to these challenges and feel they are present in their organisation may want to take action immediately, as ineffective change management can have dire effects.

The consequences of poor change management

So what are some of the things that can happen if change is not properly managed in an organisation?

This was explored in Right Management’s ‘Ready, Get Set…Change!’ study, which provided some damning findings on the potential consequences of poor change management. As expected, the majority of the impact falls on employees – according to the study, companies that don’t manage change well are four times more likely to lose talent.

Additionally, of the respondents in the study who said their organisation’s change management is poor, three-quarters (75 per cent) reported being concerned with the company’s ability to attract talent in the future. A third (32 per cent) said they harboured negative feelings about whether they could hold on to their job in 12 months’ time.

As can be seen here, poor change management can have pervasive effects around the organisation, and business leaders need to think seriously about whether they are directing change in the right manner.

What are the best steps forward?

Of course, getting on the right path to change management can be a long process that takes time and effort – but it can help to know where the best places to start are.

McKinsey & Company provides one such perspective. Following extensive global research into the subject, it has come up with a list of what it purports to be the keys to transformation success.

According to the firm, companies that have been successful in transformational change have traditionally demonstrated behaviours such as making roles and responsibilities clear, engaging continuously through ongoing communication and tasking the organisation’s best talent with the most crucial change activities.

Leaders, obviously, have an important part to play too – they should make sure that frontline staff feel ownership for the change and role-model the desired changes.

Change should not be daunting to any organisation – in fact, if managed right, it can turn into a massive step forward for your company. Are you making sure your business is primed for change management success?

6 reasons why introverts make excellent leaders

When imagining a successful leader, many people automatically envisage someone with a bold personality, charisma, and a knack for public speaking and commanding social situations. This bias has also existed in businesses for many years, with organisations typically looking to promote extroverts to leadership positions rather than staff who are prone to introversion.

A 2006 USA Today study revealed that 65 per cent of senior executives believed introversion to be a barrier to effective leadership. In fact, only 6 per cent said introverts make the best leaders.

However, the list of frequently cited introverts who have made successful leaders is long, including modern names such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as well as historic faces like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.

Therefore, what traits make introverts powerful and motivational leaders? Particularly when they face the stereotype of being quiet, shy and reserved. To answer that question, here are six reasons why introverts could be the right choice for leadership positions at your organisation.

1. New perspective

If your business only promotes extroverts to leadership roles, it can be difficult to gain a different perspective on problems or issues. Introverts can bring new ideas and suggestions to the table that offer fresh direction.

A mixture of introverts and extroverts can optimise brainstorming sessions and other meetings by combining two sets of talents in a way that is mutually beneficial for the creative process.

2. Careful preparation

Introverts like to be prepared, especially for social situations where they may otherwise feel uncomfortable, such as presentations, business meetings, networking events or speeches.

Any additional time spent researching, practising and understanding goals and strategies often pays dividends. Extroverts, while often naturally charming, can be guilty of ‘winging it’. This could cost them opportunities if colleagues or potential customers feel they have more style than substance.

3. Calming influence

Bringing together a room full of extroverts can mean emotions occasionally spill over, which could result in heated arguments and process delays.

Introverts, on the other hand, are usually more reflective and less likely to be directly confrontational. This can help to calm passions and temper egos when meetings spiral out of control.

4. Better at leading proactive teams

Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that introverts are often better leaders for naturally proactive employees.

This is because they tend to be more receptive to a team’s ideas, which motivates and galvanises staff who are already passionate about their job. However, in the same study, extroverts were found to be more effective at leading passive teams that needed more direction.

5. Keen sense of self

Introverts tend to be better at self-evaluation, meaning they are adept at identifying the positives and negatives in their performances and making adjustments to improve.

An extrovert’s extreme self-confidence could lead them to ignore or not notice flaws in their skills and abilities, or worse, lay the blame elsewhere.

6. One-on-one skills

Whereas extroverts are comfortable flitting between social contacts and talking to a number of different people, individually or in groups, introverts often prefer building strong one-on-one connections.

The advantage is that interpersonal relationships are deeper and often longer lasting. Suppliers, customers and colleagues also feel more appreciated and respected when you take the time to build these ties.

Different leadership styles from around the world

Businesses are operating in an increasingly global environment, which requires careful consideration of cultural differences when marketing goods and services worldwide.

This is particularly true for Australian organisations hoping to take advantage of growing opportunities in Asian markets, with the country ideally placed to strengthen trade relationships on the continent.

Whether you are dealing with international partners or setting up an office in an overseas location, understanding typical leadership styles in that country can be extremely beneficial to bolstering smooth-running relationships.

So what are the main leadership styles exhibited worldwide? British linguist Richard D Lewis explored the nuances between a number of countries in his 1996 book ‘When Cultures Collide‘, which is now in its third edition.

Here is a summary of some of the common characteristics outlined in the book.

Australia

Australian leaders are thought to be fairly democratic, with Mr Lewis pointing to Swedish egalitarianism models as a close comparison.

However, Australian organisations are also guided by the more aggressive American way of doing business, which favours quick thinking and fast decision-making.

According to Mr Lewis, Australian executives must be considered ‘one of the mates’, but once they have achieved this status they often exert important influence.

Research by the Australian Institute of Management has previously found that the country’s leaders are supportive, preferring coaching and mentoring rather than focusing on individual mistakes.

UK

Diplomatic, tactful and casual, British managers are often fair and willing to compromise.

Under the surface though, UK leaders have a pragmatic streak that ensures they can be resilient and ruthless, but in a subtler manner than is stereotypically seen in US counterparts.

Where British employees can falter is in international communications, with an adherence to tradition and inward-looking perspective that can prevent cross-cultural learning.

Japan

Japanese businesses are more likely to have a bottom-up approach to innovation and change, Mr Lewis claims.

Top executives may harness substantial power, but new ideas typically come from workers on the ground. These are then filtered up through middle management to senior executives and are put in place when they gain enough support.

This process involves the circulation of a document called a ringi-sho, which is annotated and amended by various departments as it makes its way up the leadership chain.

China

Like in Japan, Chinese leadership is often geared towards consensus decision-making, which Mr Lewis describes as the Confucian model. This means a leadership group is usually in charge of policy implementation.

However, unlike in truly democratic leadership styles, there is a respect for unequal relationships. Organisational structures are similar to families, with age and seniority being greatly revered.

A benevolent autocrat is considered the ideal boss, and subordinates expect to be given instructions.

The US

US leaders are often assertive, aggressive and goal orientated, which Mr Lewis says is a result of the country’s frontier beginnings shown since the 18th century.

“They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom above the welfare of the company, and their first interest is furthering their own career,” he stated.

Leadership positions are usually allocated based on merit and Americans are not shy about pursuing wealth as their main motivation.

India

Nepotism is a key feature of Indian leadership structures. Decision-making is often made between family members holding senior positions within the organisation.

Trade groups exert a significant influence in the country and strong inter-personal relationships can develop between these organisations.

Germany

German efficiency is commonly referred to when discussing businesses in the country – and while it may be a stereotype, there is truth to the notion.

Clear chains of command exist in each department, with information passing through the hierarchy in a top-down fashion. However, despite this autocratic approach, there is room for consensus in German leadership models.

Germans often gain the respect of subordinates by showing a willingness to work hard, obey the rules and play fair. Horizontal communication between department leaders is less common than in US and British firms.

France

France’s leadership models are among the most autocratic, although Mr Lewis says this may not be particularly evident at first glance.

CEOs often have skills across a wide range of areas, including marketing, production, accounting and personnel – shifting gears as and when required.

Due to this comprehensive coverage, management blunders are more accepted in French businesses, as leaders are responsible for a large number of decisions across many departments.

Netherlands

The Netherlands values merit-based appointments, so Dutch leaders can often point to many achievements and competencies.

While managers in the country are decisive, consensus is important and there are commonly a number of key individuals involved during new policy implementations.

Mr Lewis adds that ideas have free flow throughout Dutch organisations, suggesting bottom-up creativity is encouraged.

Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.